In This Article Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Philosophy of History

  • Introduction
  • The Philosophy of History
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Hegel’s Conception of Spirit and World Spirit
  • Hegel’s Conception of Reason in History
  • Hegel’s Conception of World-Historical Individuals
  • Hegel’s Conception of the End of History
  • Hegel’s Eurocentrism
  • History and Political Thought

Philosophy Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Philosophy of History
David Duquette
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0133


Hegel’s philosophy of history emphasizes the development of freedom and the consciousness of freedom over the course of world history. For Hegel, this development is marked by conflict and struggle, rather than smooth uninterrupted progress, and is manifested for the most part in political developments construed broadly, including world-historical events such as the French Revolution, in the significant actions of world-historical “heroes” such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, and in the achievements of peoples and nations. According to Hegel, the end or goal of history is the actualization of freedom in the life of the modern nation-state. He claimed that history was a rational process of development and that it could be understood and made intelligible for anyone willing to look at it rationally, which means looking at it holistically and as an endeavor of the World Spirit with a discernible purpose. Moreover, he attempted to show that history exhibited real progress toward the ultimate goal of freedom and that the modern period, the time in which he lived up until his death in 1831, brought this development to fruition and, in a way, a culmination. This theory of history has been both highly influential and controversial—it is essential to any overall study of the philosophy of history.

General Overviews

The works listed here are by prominent scholars, and each contains some material on Hegel’s philosophy of history. The overviews that deal specifically with Hegel’s philosophy of history, written by recognized Hegel scholars, are considered important in the literature on Hegel. Some of these works are general introductions to Hegel’s thought overall, such as Beiser 2005, Houlgate 2005, Findlay 1976, Plant 1972, Rosen 1974, Singer 1983, and Speight 2008. Of these, the works by Beiser, Houlgate, Singer, and Speight are the most accessible. Croce 1969, Inwood 1983, Kaufmann 1966, and Taylor 1975, although not introductions per se, are quite comprehensive in their coverage of a wide range of topics in Hegel. Findlay 1976, Houlgate 2005, Kaufmann 1966, Plant 1972, and Speight 2008 tend to be more sympathetic in their approaches, whereas Croce 1969, Rosen 1974, and Taylor 1975 lean toward a more critical assessment. Beiser 2005, Inwood 1983, and Singer 1983 are particularly well-balanced treatments.

  • Beiser, Frederick. Hegel. New York and London: Routledge, 2005.

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    A comprehensive introduction that covers nearly every major aspect of Hegel’s philosophy. This overview is written for the reader coming to Hegel for the first time and thus provides a thematic rather than textual approach. Contains one chapter (chapter 11, pp. 261–281) on the philosophy of history. A clear and accessible book on Hegel.

  • Croce, Benedetto. What Is Living and What Is Dead of the Philosophy of Hegel. Translated by Douglas Ainslie. New York: Russell & Russell, 1969.

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    A classic work on Hegel that is largely critical of his dialectical approach. In his section “The Metamorphosis of Particular Concepts into Philosophical Errors,” Croce argues that Hegel’s “history of a second degree” is incoherent and does violence to actual history. Croce’s claim that Hegel’s philosophy of history is an a priori construction has been challenged by recent interpreters (see especially Thanassas 2009, cited under Hegel’s Conception of the End of History).

  • Findlay, John. Hegel: A Re-examination. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.

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    Considered a classic and reliable general introduction to Hegel, it contains a substantial section on Hegel’s notion of Spirit and a section on his philosophy of objective spirit, with a subsection on the philosophy of history.

  • Houlgate, Stephen. An Introduction to Hegel: Freedom, Truth, and History. 2d ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

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    An accessible approach on a range of topics. Relates Hegel’s ideas to those of other thinkers and also offers a distinctive interpretation of Hegel’s thought, emphasizing its Christian character. Includes a chapter on history.

  • Inwood, Michael J. Hegel. London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.

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    A second edition with a new preface was published in 2002. A substantial survey and interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy using a topical approach, as distinct from one that focuses on Hegel’s major works. Section 11, “Freedom, Morality, and the End of History,” has several chapters relating to Hegel’s philosophy of history, with the last one discussing the idea of the end of history.

  • Kaufmann, Walter. Hegel: A Reinterpretation. Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1966.

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    Kaufmann, a major scholar of Hegel and 19th-century German philosophy, has a lengthy chapter 6, “Hegel on History,” that runs about fifty pages.

  • Plant, Raymond. Hegel: An Introduction. London: Allen & Unwin, 1972.

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    Basil Blackwell republished this book in 1983. Chapter 3, “Toward a Perspective on History,” provides biographical background that focuses on the influences on Hegel’s thinking about history.

  • Rosen, Stanley. G. W. F. Hegel: An Introduction to the Science of Wisdom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974.

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    The first two chapters focus on Hegel on history. The basic theme is that for Hegel history manifests a logical pattern, by means of which the eternal and the temporal are coincident.

  • Singer, Peter. Hegel: A Very Short Introduction. Past Masters Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

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    A good, brief, and reliable introductory overview to Hegel’s thought. Chapter 2, “History with a Purpose,” summarizes Hegel’s philosophy of history.

  • Speight, Allen. The Philosophy of Hegel. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008.

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    An introduction to Hegel that focuses on salient ideas and issues in Hegelian philosophy, along with Hegel’s reconceptualization of the nature of modernity. Surveys the major topics in the philosophy of objective spirit and confronts various inadequate interpretations of Hegel’s philosophy of history.

  • Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139171465E-mail Citation »

    A substantial exposition of Hegel’s Phenomenology and his Logic, along with chapters on various aspects of Hegel’s conception of speculative reason. Part 4, “History and Politics,” has three chapters relating to Hegel’s philosophy of history.

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